As governments in the Middle East struggle to come to grips with the surging demands for freedom of expression among their populations, media across the spectrum are coming under attack.
Repressive regimes do not discriminate between old media and new. Sometimes the threat does not originate from a government but from counterrevolutionary forces operating with the tacit blessing of officials who turn a blind eye.
Reporters without Borders is doing yeoman’s work in day-to-day reporting of these human rights violations. For the U.S. government and for civil society, the important lesson is that the exercise of freedom of expression has to be protected in every medium. Where one is vulnerable, so is the rest.
An August roundup of media threats in the Middle East shows dark clouds gathering over the Arab Spring: In Yemen, reporters are constantly being harassed, and the deputy information minister was the target of a car bomb on August 18. Suhail TV cameraman Ahmad Firas was arrested by soldiers on August 12 as he was driving with his wife and children. His equipment was confiscated and he remains under arrest. Al-Sahwa reporter Yahi Al-Thalayan was previously held for 10 days. Mohamed Ayda, the Sanaa bureau chief of the U.S. Arabic-language TV station Al-Hurra, was attacked (and not for the first time) on August 10 by several unidentified men but rescued by Yemeni citizens. In addition, the YemenOnline daily news site was hacked, a repeat occurrence.
In Bahrain, authorities have blocked access to the Web site of the Bahrain Justice and Development Movement, accusing the site of “breaking Bahrain’s law.” This site is the creation of exiled democracy advocates.
In Morocco, repression of journalists has intensified. Charges have been brought against Criss Chahtane, the editor of the Arabic-language weekly Al-Michaal, and one of his reporters, Abdel Aziz Gogass, for reporting on the political connections of a friend of the king. A trial is set for August 29. Moustapha Alaouie, the editor of Al-Oussboue-al-Sahafi, Morocco’s leading Arabic-language weekly, and reporter Youssef Meskine have also been questioned for writing on the same subject. “Judicial harassment” is how Reporters without Borders describe these actions.
Two other journalists—Mohamed Ayache Buihi, a reporter for the Moroccan daily Al-Massae and editor of Saharanow.com, and Hamid Bouffous, a reporter for the newspaper Risalat Al-Oumma and for the Sahara Press and Hespress websites—were attacked by Moroccan security forces while covering a demonstration. The two were beaten, and their equipment was confiscated.
Meanwhile, in Tunisia—where the Arab Spring started back in December 2010—protection of reporters continues to be strongly needed. On August 2, Radio Gafsa, a station located in southern Tunisia, was attacked by 20 hooded men who ransacked the premises and terrified employees.
The Arab Spring remains a highly volatile phenomenon that continues to play itself out across the region. It will take strong international engagement to guide it toward institutions that respect human rights, such as freedom of expression. Reporters, whether from new media or old, are under pressure, performing with enormous courage. They all deserve the support and vigilance of the international community, including the U.S. government and civil society.